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Archive for July, 2011

For pho in Saigon, P and I stopped at a bright yellow building just minutes away from our guesthouse in Pham Ngu Lau, the backpacker district. It was a Wednesday night and Pho Quynh was packed with Vietnamese customers – a great sign! Apparently this place is known for their stewed beef noodles in tomato sauce, or pho bo kho. However, we’d just survived the most harrowing plane ride I’ve ever been on (a thunderstorm was chasing our tail so closely we could see lightning out of our window) so some comfort food was in order. Thus, we both ordered bowls of pho bo tai, or half-done beef pho.

First our pho accoutrements arrived: limes, bean sprouts, chilis, and a heaping plate of herbs including sweet basil, sawtooth coriander, and mint.

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Then the bowls of noodles came out. I was surprised to see the meat was nearly all cooked. We went to Pho Hoa later on and ordered the same dish with the same result. It’s nothing at all like the pho bo tai I’d gotten in Hanoi or even in Hong Kong, for that matter; in those places, the beef really is quite raw.

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Anyways, the pho itself was delicious. The broth especially had so many of the complex flavors I love – cardamom, star anise, and plenty of black pepper. As I mentioned, P and I also tried Pho Hoa, the pho institution in Saigon. Honestly, though, I was actually disappointed there. I think the pho is overhyped; the broth was more one-note than that at Pho Quynh, and that was before all the requisite green herbs were added. I definitely liked Pho Quynh more, which was just as well, given its convenient location.

Pho Quynh
323 Pham Ngu Lau, District 1 (on the corner of Cong Quynh)
Cost: 40,000 VND/bowl of pho bo tai

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(More photos to come) Just a quick note on cooking classes if you ever find yourself in Siem Reap: Try the class at the River Garden Resort called Cooks in Tuk Tuks. We joined one of their daily morning classes from 10am-2pm.

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For only $25 USD a person, our chef/tour guide Yit took us to different parts of town, explaining bits of local food culture. For instance, we stopped by a street stall selling fried crickets, snakes, and cockroaches, all of which are favorite snacks of students at the nearby university. Yit also took us to a nearby market where he introduced all the local produce and meats. It was really informative to have a local explain things to us.

Back at the resort, he led us through a hands-on cooking experience in which we made banana leaf salad, a curry (made with our homemade curry paste, pounded by hand), a taro dessert, and hibiscus tea. It was absolutely delicious, and we got a cookbook too, so we can try it at home. Yit was really funny and helpful, and ever-so-patient with us, his less-than-experienced cooks. This was definitely one of my favorite memories from trip, and another way to learn about Khmer culture. Call or email ahead of time to book a spot, and then prepare yourself for some really good food!

Cooks on Tuk Tuks
The River Garden Resort
855 063 963 400
Cost: $25 USD/person

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P and I are now on the road for our Southeast Asian adventure! We’re visiting Cambodia, Vietnam, and Taiwan, and along the way I will try to update as often as I can. I apologize in advance because some better-quality photos are on my camera, which I will upload after I get home!

In any case, we started out our adventures in Siem Reap, Cambodia, jumping-off point for the beautiful temples of Angkor.

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Naturally, it was also the jumping-off point for our eating adventures!
One of my must-eat places in Siem reap is Angkor Palm. We found it in our handy Lonely Planet Guide, where it came highly recommended. The first night we were in town, we came for dinner. I must admit, we hadn’t studied up on our Khmer cuisine as we should have so, faced with indecision, we went with the Angkor Palm platter for two. What a great choice it was! The platter featured their legendary fish amok (a Cambodian curry), pork spare ribs, fried morning glory, fresh spring rolls, and a mango salad. (Photos to come).

The green curry was my favorite. It was a bit sweeter than Thai curries, but had the same heady spices and herbs – lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, and sweet basil. The consistency was a bit soupier than that of Thai curry. The morning glory was also more flavorful than what I’ve had in Hong Kong. There was an ample dose of garlic in the stir-fry, along with what seemed like chicken stock. The mango salad was full of fresh herbs and, when served with the great sweet and sour dressing, was just the antidote for a hot evening.

On our second visit for lunch, we sat outside again. The environment in the restaurant is quite nice because they, along with many other restaurants in the old market area, have both a verandah and an indoor area. There’s no air conditioning in the restaurant but the ceiling fans cool the area pretty well and they, along with wide wicker chairs outside, lend a colonial vibe to the place. The location makes it great for people-watching along the busy road.

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First, the lemon shake I ordered appeared. It was a delicious slushy of coconut milk and lemon juice, creamy and – most importantly – cool.

The fresh spring rolls had the most bouncy vermicelli and wrap. The wrap wasn’t hard and tough, but was just the right amount of chewiness. It was stuffed with shredded carrots, sprouts, pork, roasted peanuts, and sweet basil.

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Our beef loc lak came as a heaping collection of cubes with cucumbers, green tomatoes and onions. There was a red sweet and sour sauce that covered the beef as well. And of course, it was served with the loc lak brown sauce with plenty of black pepper, lime juice, and countless other secret ingredients. It had a terrifically bold and bracing flavor.

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And of course, it was all served with the ubiquitous and oh-so-delicious jasmine rice. I do think jasmine rice is my favorite (at least for now) because it’s fragrant and light. It was ideal for soaking up all the sauces while still holding its grainy, tough texture.

All told, Angkor Palm was our favorite restaurant in Siem Reap, and it’s definitely worth a stop in the area. Once you’ve enjoyed Khmer food here, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better place in Siem Reap.

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